Why the SAT is Super Important! (And Why It's Not)

There's no doubt the SAT is very important, but just how heavily it will weigh in your college applications depends on several factors.

Imagine you are the king of a vast empire. For your army, you want to recruit only the best knights. At first, you send your squires to ask around in each village, “Who is the best knight?” By identifying the best knight in each village, you end up with an array of talents, from the most deft sword-wielder to the dude with a paunch who can at least ride a horse—not perfect, but not too shabby, either.

However, you want only the best knights, so you devise a test that includes the usual knighting skill set: horseback riding, jousting, sword fighting etc. In the end, that test helps you recruit some of the best knights in the kingdom—whether they are the best in their villages, or whether many come from the same village.

Why is the SAT necessary?

In the academic world, the college admission committees are the kings, and students are the knights. To compare students from totally different high schools, college admission committees can’t just choose the top students at each college (or at least the ones with 4.0’s); they need some way to compare students from across the nation and around the world. And that, in short, is a brief history of the SAT and why we need it (or at least some standardized test for the college-bound).

Where things get a little more complicated is how different colleges weigh the SAT. Larger public universities tend to put more stock in standardized tests because such schools have a much larger pool of applicants. On the other hand, schools with a smaller applicant pool can often spend more time getting to “know” students better. Suddenly, the SAT is just a mere fraction of a pie that includes essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and special talents.

How important is the SAT in your college applications?

To see how important the SAT is for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you going to a state school?
  2. Are you going to a competitive state school?
  3. Are you applying to a private university?
  4. Are you applying to a competitive private university?

If you answered yes to #1, a high SAT score isn’t too important. Many schools have a minimum, and as long as you score more than that, you should be fine.

If you answered yes to #2, a high SAT score is one of the only ways you’ll be able to stand out from a massive pool of applicants.

If you answered yes to #3, the SAT is only a small part of your application. The admission board will most likely want to know what makes you special. An essay that indicates you are a good “fit” with the college can be just as important.

If you answered yes to #4, the SAT will be a pretty important part of your application. Being special in some way—which can come across in letters of recommendation, essays, or talent—also go a long way.

The above is, of course, an oversimplification, but you get the general idea. Even if you only answered “yes” to #3, you should still familiarize yourself with what’s on the SAT. You don’t necessarily have to be a knight in shining armor, but it wouldn’t hurt if you knew how to ride a horse.

Thanks to the test prep pros at Magoosh for sharing these insights! For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

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About Chris Lele

For the last 10 years, Chris has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT, and GRE. In this time, he’s coached five students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.


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